On stage, one’s features must be clearly visible to everyone sitting in the theater, even the people in the very back row. Both male and female actors use basic stage makeup techniques to enhance their natural features, correct or diminish other features, and change their appearance. Often, a role calls for character makeup, such as stylized fairies, animals, or a look of old age. Makeup can accomplish all of these looks and many more.
Assembling Your Makeup Kit
It’s not necessary to buy a ton of professional-quality makeup and tools, but do buy the best quality makeup you can afford. Cake foundation is the most common type used in the theater because it covers well and blends easily, but you can also use street liquid foundation.
More expensive foundations and powders do the cover and last better than cheap drugstore brands; on the other hand, you can probably get away with cheap eyeshadows and lipsticks. Keep an assortment of brown eyeshadows and different shades of blush on hand, as well as brown and black eyeliner pencils and mascara.
If you’re good at mixing colors, a theatrical quality color wheel, which is a single disc with red, blue, yellow, black, and white cremes, can save you a lot of money in the long run on eyeshadow, eyeliner, and blush. You will also need a cosmetic pencil sharpener, cotton balls, and your favorite type of makeup remover.
A few good tools can drastically improve your makeup application. Sponges are necessary for applying foundation and blending. You’ll need several small brushes, especially if you’re going to use cremes for eyeshadow or eyeliner. Q-tips can work in a pinch and are also indispensable for touching up smears and smudges. You’ll also need several large brushes for powder and blush.
If you’re going to share the makeup kit, you’ll want to purchase disposable brushes, sponges, mascara wands, and mixing palettes. Finally, a toolbox or tackle box will keep all of your makeup and tools organized.
Basic Stage Makeup Techniques
Basic makeup techniques are used for all types of theatrical productions, including high school, college, community, or regional professional theater. When working with young child actors in class plays or community productions, foundation, and other heavy makeup is usually not necessary unless an animal or fantasy look is necessary. Always consider the style of production, type of character, and size of theater when planning a makeup design.
Before applying any makeup, wash the face thoroughly with a gentle soap or face cleanser. Be sure to remove all traces of street makeup. Next, apply an even coat of foundation over the entire face, and blend into the neck. If you are using dry cake makeup, drag a slightly damp sponge across the cake, then apply.
Creme and liquid foundations should be applied with dry sponges. If you want the foundation to create a skin tone different from the actor’s skin tone, then you also need to cover any exposed skin on the neck, and possibly the hands, with makeup.
Once a base coat is on the actor’s face, use lighter and darker foundations (or blend white and brown makeup into the base foundation) to emphasize or create highlights and shadows. Use subtle highlights and shadows to emphasize the natural contours of an actor’s face. You can also change the shape of an actor’s face with highlights and shadows.
For example, a crooked nose will appear straight with a strong straight highlight down the bridge of the nose, or you can bring out deep-set eyes by highlighting under the browbone. Be sure to blend highlights and shadows well, unless you are going for a very stylized look.
For male actors, a little color is needed on the cheeks and lips because stage lights tend to wash out the face. Apply blush with a soft hand, unless the male actor wants to look like he’s wearing blush. For lipstick, choose a matte color that is slightly darker than the actor’s natural lip color. Use a matching lip liner first to help the lipstick last.
If a female actor is playing a character who should not look like she is wearing makeup, then she should follow the same guidelines as male actors. For example, proper women in many time periods did not wear cosmetics, and it is rarely considered appropriate for young girls to wear makeup. On the other hand, a female actor playing a contemporary woman or a character such as a Cabaret showgirl will wear more makeup.
For these types of characters, apply makeup in a similar manner to streetwear, only more of it. Everything must be more dramatic than a woman would normally wear because it must be able to be seen from the back row of the theater. Apply your makeup, then stand under the stage lights and ask a fellow cast member or the director how it looks from the back row of the theater.
When a young actor has been cast to play an older person, often make up is required to achieve the necessary look. First, figure out how old the character should look, and then find pictures of people in that age group. Take note of where the skin has wrinkled and sagged, then use the principles of highlighting and shading to create that effect on the actor’s face.
Have the actor smile, frown, raise his or her eyebrows, and scrunch his or her face together to see where the skin would naturally wrinkle, then use a brown eyeliner pencil (or mix colors from your color wheel) to draw in the wrinkles. Highlight the skin around the wrinkle, and then blend carefully.
Plays set in periods other than our own will have different makeup needs. In some time periods, men and women alike powdered their faces white, painted their lips red, and drew on beauty marks. In many periods, proper men and women didn’t wear any makeup at all, but lower-class women did. A little research can help you to figure out what would have been common for the given time period, or consult the director for ideas.
Many plays feature animals or fantasy creatures. Masks can be used, but makeup can also create effects limited only by your imagination. When turning an actor’s face into an animal’s, study pictures of the animal and attempt to capture the essence of the animal’s expression. Sketch some designs first on paper, then use creme paints to draw on the actor’s face.
Powder to set. One common fantasy character is the fairy. You can use highlights and shadows to make the face look more angular, and glitter and swirly eye makeup is common. Search the Internet or your local library for additional fantasy makeup resources.
You can also use makeup to create fantastic special effects—latex and spirit gum can make scars, wounds, and large crooked noses, but it can take much training and practice to be able to achieve effects that look realistic.
If you are interested in learning more, many books, websites, and classes cover special makeup effects in detail. However, if you practice and experiment with the techniques covered here, soon you’ll be able to create a variety of looks for the stage.If you are interested